This is a cautionary satire about size-preoccupied people who pay to go on a star-studded celebrity cruise ship where they will be able to try the new diet drug called Solu. The developers claim that passengers will lose 5-10 percent of their body weight during the cruise’s seven-day voyage.
The developers of Solu, Timothy Almstead and Dr. Elise Zhang, have hired former child star Tom Fiorelli, now 19 and “hot,” to be the ship’s host and the face of the publicity. The celebrities on board are also being paid to be there. In addition, some five hundred people have paid hefty [sic] fees to take the trip, and to take the drug.
Almstead , 83, is the CEO of a soda company that has been accused of contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic. With the development of Solu, he hopes to stop people blaming him for their lack of self control and weight gain.
Laurel Willard, 17, is a “curvy” girl who is not unhappy with her weight, but is going on the cruise to accompany her BFF Vivika Hallerton (“Viv”), who has always been obsessed with being thin. In addition, Laurel has always had a crush on Tom Fiorelli. The narration alternates between Laurel and Tom. Both Laurel and Tom have decided not to take Solu; they are each skeptical. As it happens, this decision helps save them from the less than salubrious outcome awaiting the other passengers.
As the days go by, those who take Solu do indeed get thinner, but they also begin to show all the signs of a severe addiction. And then, the symptoms get even worse.
Discussion: This is a story that seems like a cross between a Jonathan Swift-type satire, and a serious issue/coming of age book. I think it might have worked better as the latter, because the message gets swamped by the over-the-top satirical elements of the story. It would even have helped if the extreme weight loss had been portrayed as taking more than a few days. In this book, in less than a week, the passengers taking Solu – who range from “chubby” to “obese” at the outset – become “revoltingly thin” with sunken cheeks and protruding eyes. (And this, it should be added, is while eating as much as they want.) And what they do next just sort of vitiates the message, in my opinion, by making the story too absurd.
Occasionally, the prose is ridiculous as well (“And I know he’s telling the truth because my heart rings like a bell.”), but for the most part it is just standard fare.
A few spoilery plot complaints: (mouse over to see them):
1. The CEO of one of the most successful companies on the planet is clinically insane? Hard to countenance.
2. Laurel’s own password is what is the key to the incendiary device? How did that happen?
3. In the end, where are Laurel’s parents? What happened to Viv? Where are her parents?
On the other hand, there are some very good parts to the story. Laurel is a non-model-thin girl who is actually okay with her body, and Tom is a hot guy who genuinely prefers girls who do not look like skeletons.
Viv has serious body image issues, and there is some discussion of the influence of family life on these attitudes. Viv’s dad gives her mom constant criticism over her body, whereas Laurel’s dad loves her size-fourteen mom and “thinks she’s sexy and perfect the way she is.” Both of the moms respond to the way they are treated in ways that have influenced how their daughters feel about their own bodies.
Evaluation: I loved the message in this story, but I wish the rest of it hadn’t been too silly to overwhelm it.
Published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, 2015